Thursday, June 26, 2008

Part 2 - Tending the Garden of Marriage

(Continued from yesterday - Gardening Tips 7-1)

7) Learn his/her love language.
Gary Chapman wrote a book called The Five Love Languages that is a super read. John receives love most easily through the language of service. If I do the dishes or bring him lemonade as soon as he gets home, he feels loved. I receive love most easily through words of encouragement. John knows this and exhorts me often. He is a man of few words and I am not a servant, but we make the effort because without this kind of labor, our garden would die.

6) Give each other time to be alone.
We each need time without the other to do our own thing, besides work, and to let the Lord restore us. John enjoys riding for hours in the mountains. I love going somewhere and writing. We both take time to get away and be alone with God. This is vital to our spiritual health and the health of the garden.

5) Laugh. Laugh. Laugh.
I cannot emphasize this enough. John and I love to laugh and we do it a lot. Some of our best times of laughter come watching TV and commenting on everything or when we have dinner and talk about our day.

4) Don’t ever use the word divorce..ever.
It is not an option. Murder, you betcha. Divorce, no.

3) Talk about the hard stuff.
This is our most difficult lesson because neither John nor I do conflict well. We both get silent or leave the room if something has hurt us or made us angry. But we have learned that we MUST talk about it. We don’t have to resolve it immediately, but we must acknowledge the presence of a problem. In doing this, we are telling each other we love each other enough to walk through the pain that is INEVITABLE in every marriage. This part of marriage is like spreading the fertilizer over the plants in the garden. It looks and feels like manure, but it makes everything grow.

2) Never underestimate the healing power…
We laugh about this, but if I have a cold, a deadly disease or a hangnail, John will inevitably say to me, “Robbie, Never underestimate the healing power of…” Well, you know. It is TRUE! The intimacy of marriage must be tended to with the same care as a master gardener uses to tend his roses.

John and I began praying each night together after Noah was born and we haven’t stopped. In our darkest days when our garden was dying the power of prayer, that spiritual force that goes beyond our human endeavors, ultimately saved our marriage. It is a proven fact that couples who pray together consistently have a better chance of making it than couples who don’t. It keeps the garden blooming, colorful and vibrant, because it is inviting God, the best gardener ever, to take charge of our marriage.

And lastly, I will add that the best gift to give your kids is to love each other. Noah knows that John and I love each other and will always put each other first. This may sound harsh, poor little Noah :0), but in reality, we are giving Noah a secure foundation. I often say to him, “Noah, I hope you take care of your wife like your dad takes care of me.” And John tells him, “Noah, you’ll be blessed to marry someone like your mom.”

The garden is beautiful at the Iobst home. Not without weeds, but the flowers are tangerine orange and bright pink and yellow, the color of sunshine.

Takes work, but oh,is it worth it.

Part 1 - Tending the Garden of Marriage

Keeping a marriage strong is like tending a flower garden. Nourishment and daily attention is vital. Weeds creep in no matter the spiritual pesticides you use. If they are left to grow, they choke the joy and security out of the union. Those weeds must be dug up from the roots, or the same issues will keep popping up, taking away from the beauty and the usefulness of the garden.

I am blessed beyond measure in my garden because of two factors.

First, I am the offspring of some great gardeners. Walker and Sally Ann Floyd knew how to tend their marriage and keep it strong. What a blessing to observe them truly enjoy each other.

Once I asked my Dad what I should look for in a mate. He said, “Rob, find somebody you jive with. Period.”

He “jived” with Mom. They liked each other and enjoyed hanging out. Their garden flourished because they were first and foremost, friends.

The most important lesson my folks taught me about marriage is that it takes commitment. Not gushy love or twitter-pation or even attraction, although all three of these bring blooming flowers to the garden that add color and joy. But without commitment, gardens die.

Mom told me often, “Marriage is the hardest job you will ever love.”

The second reason I am blessed in my garden is my co-gardener, John.

We just celebrated 12 years. I can honestly say that I love this man much, much more than that Saturday in June of 1996. When we met, we were both completely different people than we are now. The change in our souls and our outlooks occurred because our garden started dying. God gave us overalls, little shovels and new seeds. Through a lot of hard work, our garden began blooming again.

John did most of the work. He has become a master gardener.

So I thought that today I would share the top 10 gardening tips the Lord has given us.

10) Affection is important.
Reach out to hold each other’s hand. John often sweeps me into his arms and we dance across the kitchen floor. He kissed my cheek last night in the middle of dinner at a restaurant. The flowers bloom with affection!

9) If it is important to him/her, it is important to me.
I have LEARNED to listen and ASK QUESTIONS about motorcycling. John has learned the same with my writing. We do this, not because I love motorcycles and John loves writing, (are you kidding?) but because we like each other and we know part of nourishing our marriage is to nourish each other’s interests.

8) Viva la difference!
My Dad used to say this and it completely fits tending the garden of a marriage. John is not like me emotionally and I caused us a boatload of problems during the first part of our marriage when I expected him to have the same emotions as I did. I would say, “Aren’t you excited?” He would say in a complete monotone with no facial expressions, “Yes.” It would drive me crazy and it didn’t make him happy either. When I began to accept our differences, the freedom to be myself and let him be himself was like nutrient rich water that refreshed our garden in the hot sunshine.

(Part 2 tomorrow, Friday)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fear Not

Diagnosis: Carpel Tunnel Thumb Syndrome. The knuckle of my thumb still aches. I kept my cell phone in my hand all weekend except when I was sleeping, often using my thumb to flip up the cover and make sure I hadn’t missed any calls.

Why? The boy went to a three day church camp. He’s been at sleepovers and I have left him with relatives and very close friends for weekend jaunts, but this was different. Besides the Children’s pastor and his wife, Noah and John and I knew no one else that was attending. But he still wanted to go.

“Noah, you are telling me you want to go somewhere for four days and three nights and you won’t know anyone or have any friends when you get there?”

To me, it was insanity. No way would I ever go somewhere as a kid without a buddy. No way. It was social suicide.

“Mom, I will make friends when I get there.”

Confidently spoken, his words gave my heart little assurance. He just didn’t know what I did. He didn’t know that if you are a loner, you are targeted by child abusers. He didn’t know that a million different little things could go horribly wrong and this could be the most tragic weekend of his life. He didn’t know that he could end up lonely and bawling in his sleeping bag. He didn’t know that at nine-years-old, he still needed me with him.

I looked at John, hoping for a little support. Surely, HE knew.

“Sounds great, Noah. You will have a blast.”

And there it was. We signed him up and began planning. John pointed out to me that the weekend of Noah’s camp was our 12th anniversary.

“Woo hoo!” He said “Great coincidence, don’t you think?”

“Yes. I guess.” I was still counting the things that could possibly go wrong during Noah’s camping experience.

Last Friday, the three of us took the forty-five mile trip to the camp. My mornings leading up to the drop off had been intense times of pleading with God.

“Please, take care of him. Please.”

“I will.”

“No, really, please take care of him.”

“Yep. I will.”

“God, I am begging you…”

You get the drift.

In addition, I called the Children’s Pastor a dozen times with all sorts of questions, including the name of his counselor and what precautions were used to check the guy out.

The Friday morning of camp, God reminded me of a verse I memorized years back during my Horizon High School teaching days. I inserted Noah’s name into it.

“Fear not, for I am with Noah. Be not dismayed for I am Noah’s God. I will strengthen Noah. Yes, I will help Noah. I will keep Noah in My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

We drove up to his cabin and got out his stuff. John led the way and we entered his cabin, already full of his 10 cabin mates.

“You must be Noah.” A man with a huge smile and compassionate eyes greeted my son with a handshake. “I’m Mr. Darcy and we have one bunk left with your name on it.”

Relief, joy, panic, and great love for my boy cascaded into heart filling it to the brim. So much so, that the emotions overflowed through my tear ducts.

John and Noah began putting his gear into place and I stood watching, waiting to die a slow painful death. Maybe I could just melt right there like the Wicked Witch. I could be a spot of green goop on the floor. At least I’d be near Noah.

“Are you Noah’s mom?”

I came back up for air and noticed Mr. Darcy looking at me.

“It’s his first time.” I couldn’t speak above a whisper. “Please take care of him.”

With that, I left the room and went outside. I didn’t want Noah to see me crying. But he had seen me. The emotional connection between us caused him to tear up, too. John worked hard and fast to deal with both of us and then get me the heck outta Dodge before I started wailing out loud and declaring my love for each boy and their family, while announcing I wouldn’t be a bother and I could just sleep on the floor.

In the car, my tears became a geyser of fear and hope and love. John pet me like a little puppy who’d been stung by a bee.

“It’s okay, Robbie. He’ll be fine.”

“Let’s pray, John.” Through my sobs, I once again asked God to take care of the boy.
“Amen.” I looked to my husband, my rock. This would be a great moment for him to soothe me with compassion and timeless wisdom.

He grinned and said, “Robbie, by now Noah can’t even remember our names.”

John and I had a great weekend hanging out and celebrating our marriage. The only sign of my unending Noah-worry was a cell phone and a throbbing thumb.

When I picked him up, my son was unscathed and happy, bursting with details like a popcorn machine in the back seat of the car.

“I want to go back next year.”

“God took my fear of heights and I did the zip line. It was so much fun!”

“One night we walked around the girls’ cabin singing, ‘I’m a goofy goober, you’re a goofy goober!”

“We learned about treasures and if you have a treasure on earth that means more than God, that’s a stupid thing to do.”

“I liked Chatain the best but I hung out with a lot of friends. They were all nice.”

“Did Scooby miss me?”

Then he fell asleep and fell over in the backseat. Happiness and relief caused me to toss my cell phone deep into my purse.

My thumb still hurts. But God once again extended mercy toward my emotional heart. He took great, loving care of my boy and gave him an adventure.

He also took care of me.

“Fear not, Robbie, I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God! I will strengthen you, Robbie. Yes, I will help you. I will keep you, Robbie, in my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Joy of Reading

Right now I am in Columbia and it is hot and sweaty and the putrid smell stings my nostrils. Despite the attack on my senses, I enjoy every moment. Why? I am following THEM. SHE is a young girl who is about to marry a doctor, almost begrudgingly but with a passion hidden in her heart. HE is her forgotten...stalker? They loved each other through notes and telegrams for years. But then she rejected him. Suddenly. Completely. I watch them and read their thoughts. I am more than curious to see what will happen next.

If you haven't figured it out, I am not actually in Columbia. I am reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera. The joy of taking a trip with my imagination through his craft of writing is delicious, like my mom's old peach cobbler on a summer night.

I love reading.

Last week, I sat in Pennsylvania next to a man as he said good-bye to his dog. I'd watched that dog grow up and laughed at all of his antics. Now I cried; unashamed at my sobbing, I too, experienced the grief of losing a family pet. Josh Grogan's Marley and Me was a treat. And yes, when I finished the book, I hugged my own dog Scooby just a little harder.

It is a shame to think that everyone doesn't take advantage of the travel agency called Public Library and ship off to experience adventure and heartbreak and intrigue. My boy Noah is a reader. When I see him pick up a book, it is like watching him buy a ticket to another land.

Last week, John and Noah and I went to a local Christian bookstore to pick up some reads. John picked up Oliver North's Heroes. At home, Noah's curiousity caused him to ask if he could read a few pages. John said yes and for the next few days, Noah took off and met some heroes. After his conversations with these men and women who have defended our country, he told John and I about them.

I love reading.

As I post this, I am sitting at the library surrounded by the words, the magic carpets, of people throughout the world. Noah is upstairs at his Pokemon club and I knew I needed to post (it's Thursday :0)) so I came to the computers.

But I will be honest with you. I am typing fast. Why?

Columbia awaits...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Just Keep Swimming

Today my son and I pulled into the parking lot of swim team practice. As we got out and proceeded to walk along the grassy area toward the pool, I said to my son, "Okay, let's review."

"I know, Mom." Noah looked up at me through his black and red swim goggles and summer tanned face. "Keep swimming, don't cry and don't give up. And I won't."

He didn't. For the first time this summer, he made it through a one hour practice of non-stop lap swimming.

As I watched Noah in the pool, under the beautiful Colorado sky complete with sunshine and clouds and hints of storms on the horizon, my heart felt so good. Just a few weeks ago, my boy with asthma and a fearful soul joined this team thinking it would be more like a game of Marco Polo than a competitive exercise in stamina and skills. When the reality set in, we both chose to hunker down and see this through. But not without both of us walking, or should I say swimming, through frustration, anger and pain.

A little over a week ago, Noah told me in anguish, "I will never be able to swim a 100 freestyle, Mom."

"You have to keep swimming Noah. You will get there."

"No I won't!"

Once we left a practice in tears. Both of us. (Long story) But in the car I made a choice to pause and pray. I did and asked God to help me guide my bawling son. The morning was still painful, but by that night and after a few talks, Noah's attitude had metamorphosized into "I bet I can do this."

Today,after swimming several 50s, 100s and one 125, he hopped out of the water and walked over to me, a towel stretched out in my hands to cover him.

He covered up and looked at me with those gargoyle black and red eyes.
"That was fun."

I grinned and thanked God. Little choices make big differences. I want to learn those life lessons I have taught my son. It is my turn to apply his easy words in my own tests of perserverance.

Keep swimming, don't cry and don't give up!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

An Undivided Heart

“Teach me Your way,
O Lord, and I will walk in Your truth; give me an
undivided heart,
that I may fear Your name.”
Psalm 86:11

An undivided heart… Can you imagine having an undivided heart? Besides the four biological chambers of my physical heart, I have several sequestered areas in my soul meant for different areas of my life.

My immediate family takes up a huge room. I seek to give joy and enjoy my husband and son. It is the purpose of my life to love these two guys and share with them who I am every day.

I have another designated area for the rest of my family. My stepdaughters, my mother-in-law and her sister, my siblings, nephews, nieces and aunts are all part of my heart.

Friends, writing, the daily chores of life make up other rooms that each require part of my intentions each day.

So why does David ask God for an undivided heart? Was it because as a man, he could compartmentalize so much easier than a woman could? :0)

Ever heard of Pam and Bill Farrell’s analogy that men are like waffles (compartmentalizing each relationship and task) and women are like spaghetti (intertwining each relationship and task)?

An undivided heart would be more difficult for us as women, right?

Or maybe not. Maybe the intention of David is to ask for the foundational motivation of his life. All of us, no matter our gender, can benefit, even thrive, by knowing what should be our guiding purpose.

Like finding our “one thing.” Remember Billy Crystal in “City Slickers?” He searches for the “one thing,” the most important facet of his life. Turns out to be his family.

Maybe David was asking God to show him his “one thing." What is the most vital, important foundation of my life, God? And how do I keep it in front of me always?

I was pondering this the other day (pondering hurts less than you might think) and as I sat there my puggle Scooby became restless and started running from window to window in our living room. Ever since our dog became a wild bunny killer, his thirst for blood knows no limits. Sure, he’s only caught one bunny, but as John puts it, “He has tasted blood – he’s a wild man now.” When bunnies are near, Scooby knows it and sits or stands at our windows for long periods of time, searching, looking, and keeping vigil.

My dog has an undivided heart. He has found his passion.

So what about me? I am not David, a man of such faith and courage he killed a giant with a sling shot. And I am not my dog, thirsty for one more mouthful of bunny.

I am me. And the flavor of me is wonderful to the God who created me and loves me. But He wants me to thrive. He wants me to have an undivided heart. A heart that is passionate for Him. A heart that thirsts for His presence in my life.

In my pondering, the Spirit has led me to a partial answer. (There is always more.) God wants to be the first passion, the first priority in my life. Before family and friends and writing and daily chores.

God has not asked me to decrease my faithfulness to the other priorities of my heart. He is asking me to increase my faithfulness to them by putting Him and His presence in my life first. God uses paradoxes. This works because of His supernatural, super hero power.

What does this look like? Currently, this kind of power from God blossoms in my life when I make two choices, two sacrifices.

First is a simple sacrifice of time. I must set aside time to purposefully think about God and listen to His voice through silence and His word.

Next is a sacrifice of thoughts. I must purpose my mind to REMEMBER Him throughout the day and make His presence a natural part of my day. Kind of like inviting Him into my conversations, my meals, my laughter and my blog. :0)

In 1 Samuel 13:14, David is described as “a man after God’s own heart.” Maybe that is because he pleaded with God to give him an undivided heart. He screwed it up at times. Remember Bathsheba? But he got back on the proverbial horse over and over, continually asking the Creator of motivation to give him the best motivation.

Scooby, too, screws up at times. The other day he ran off after a bunny and lost his way. For a horrible hour, we couldn’t find our precious puggle. A neighbor found him and called us. Were we angry when we picked him up? No. We knew his flight after the bunny was a choice he had to make. His undivided heart led him. We pet him and loved on him. He cuddled up with us for a while, glad to be home.

But then he heard a noise. Back to his window he went.

Balancing Act

So the summer has started and I am a bit off balance. Happy, joyful, content, but off balance. So today, in my teeter-tottering frame of mind, I ramble. Hang on and enjoy the ride.

* Yesterday, I believe I was attacked with either sunstroke or sun exhaustion. I usually don't hang out in the direct sun but the soothing rays seduced me and I actually laid out by the pool as Noah and four little boys played. Then I took dear Scooby to the dog park. Afterwards, I couldn't move. Lots of water and 12 hours of sleep later, I feel great.

* I am sitting at WFTJ - my writing group - typing this. I love my writing group. I love my writing group. :0)

* Noah is getting better and better at swimming. He is on a swim team and last Saturday was his second meet. As I watched him freestyle his way down the lane, my heart almost came out of my chest. I was so proud! I gave birth to a fish! Yay!

* My Mom-in-law, JoJo, gave me a cookbook with all sorts of Chicken recipes. So every week I am making one new chicken recipe. This week I made Chicken Veronique. Yep, food network, here I come!

* I just finished the book Marley and Me by Josh Grogan. I loved it!!! I finished it at midnight two nights ago, and cried like a baby. But through a smile. If you haven't read this book, go right now and get it. Since becoming a dog person, yes, it's true, I really, really enjoyed this book.

* Noah and I are both reading every day and loving it. We put a light by his bed so it is SO cute when he goes to bed he says, "Mom, I am going to read for a while before I go to sleep." Yay!

* My sister Karen may come in September. I am so excited!

* I LOVE my husband. Last night, as I suffered from sunstroke, he took care of me and made me laugh even as I thought I was gonna die! Thank you John.

* If you haven't read Megan DiMaria's Searching for Spice, I have to ask you, WHY NOT? It is fun and well written and perfect for a swimming pool summer day. Go buy it!

Well, maybe this week will be more balanced. Oh well, God is in control!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Blue Thoughts

Today I had lunch with a couple of fellow writers and we talked about all sorts of book-odds and book-ends as writers do. The topic of depression came up. It is interesting to me that most of the women I know deal with depression in some degree. I have and do. The word depression is thrown around a lot when the term sad or blue would be a better fit, since depression is usually linked to a chemical imbalance of some sort, meaning it is a true state of physical illness. I remember well one time in my life my emotions had dipped beyond sad or blue. Scared me. My doctor put me on antidepressants for a while.

They helped in that they gave me a) validation that it wasn't just me feeling sorry for myself and b) a little time to get my legs back underneath me. Unfortunately, they also made me sleepy. Very sleepy. So I stopped taking them after some time had passed.

I am pro-antideppressants. (Is that an oxymoron?) If you need them, I say go for it. But nowadays I have found other answers as well to my times of singing the blues. The women I talked with today told me of their "cures." Supplements, hormones and vitamins topped the list. It is so important to pay attention to our bodies and emotional states as we grow older. Things are changing and not since adolescence have the changes brought such upheaval. Depression, sadness or the blues can be caused by the effects of aging. Sure, I don't talk as an expert, but the anecdotal evidence I have collected over lunches and coffees is pretty substantial.

As for me, I have connected the dots in my life and body as they stand today, in my 45th year of life. Three "cures" I have found work for me. They are simple, but if I do not adhere to their regiments, a curtain of sadness and despair slowly, ever so slowly, falls over my eyes and I see the world in the bleak color of gray. Ask John. Well, on second thought, don't ask him. Just buy him a mug that says "Saint" on it.

Anyway, here are my answers to the blues:
1)Sleep - I used to be able to sleep 5 hours a night and be ready to go, bubbly and bright. NO MORE. I have to get in at least 7 hours now. If I don't, I eat more and I smile less.

2)A Sugarless life - As I grow older and now have diabetes, sugar can be a weapon I use against myself. This is my toughest battle because I LIKE SUGAR. But like an abusive boyfriend, I have to let it go. Of course, that's not a perfect analogy, because a tiny bit of sugar every once in a while is fine. :0) But if I find myself desserting it up every day, the aftermath is clear. I begin feeling horrible about myself, my future, my life.

3)Movement - This is a vital key for me. It is amazing how quickly my spirits can soar just by purposefully exercising. For me, this is not just walking Scooby or pushing the grocery cart to the ice cream section of the store. This means setting aside intentional time to move my body in some sort or fashion. Endorphins come and rescue my sad soul every time.

To me, joy is not an emotion. It is a belief in God's sovereignty and His control. When I feel blue or sad or depressed, I can STILL have joy, knowing that my Father in heaven still cherishes me and will never leave me. But happiness and contentment are emotions and when they subside, I know something is up. I must address it or pretty soon, my joy is affected. I start ignoring God. That kind of blue is the worst.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Summer Time!

"Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy,
Sunshine almost always makes me high..." John Denver

Oh baby, it is the first day of summer! School is out and the boy and I are loving it! No more coats, no more scarfs, no more ice or snow, no more deciding how many layers to wear, no more "where is my blanket?" at night, no more fighting over the heating blanket called Scooby, no more cold!!

Here is my list of the Top Ten things I am looking forward to for the next 10 weeks...then Noah is off to 4th grade!

10)Great fruit including watermelon and the sweetest corn ever!

9)Flowers everywhere - the colors make everything more beautiful!

8)Late night star-gazing with my fam!

7)For some reason, I read more in the summer - so hello library and Barnes and Noble!

6)John's 10 day motorcyle trip - I am excited for him! No really, I am. Really!

5)We are going camping at Mount Rushmore!

4)We are going to go to see a couple of places in Colorado we haven't seen yet!

3)Noah and I memorize Scripture in the summer together - woo hoo!

2)Swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming...Noah and I love the pool!

1)The lazy pace of life. I love, love, love that we aren't always on the go, go, go!!

Happy summer to all of you!